Lions’ Will Harris embraces full-time move to cornerback

Detroit News

Allen Park — The start of training camp has Detroit Lions defensive back Will Harris feeling the love.

He loves the “hybrid” tag applied to him as someone who can play both safety and cornerback. He loves the challenge of being “out there on that island.”

Mainly, though, he just loves football, he said — which is why he’s stoked to be available in a variety of deployments come fall.

“Wherever it is, it kind of feels like home to me,” Harris said Thursday.

“I love the way I can move around a little bit, but at the same time, I’m just focusing on corner. With that being said, obviously I can play other positions, so wherever they need me, ultimately, is where I’m going to line up. I’m just honing my craft every day at every position and just trying to stay locked in at every position.”

Harris, 26, is in the process of making a full-time switch to cornerback while heading into the final season of his four-year rookie deal. He was drafted as a safety — and played there through his first 2½ seasons — but a battered and bruised cornerback room in 2021 made it necessary for him to take on another role. He played four games at outside corner and four at nickel corner in the latter half of last season.

It was an interesting footnote when Harris was getting reps at cornerback during the spring, but Lions coach Dan Campbell said Thursday that the move is official.

“We feel pretty good about keeping Will on the outside right now and just letting him compete out there, knowing that if we ever need him in the back end, he can do that,” Campbell said. “Sometimes, when you can take a little bit off a guy’s plate, man, they can really grow.”

It’s a welcome change in a critical season for Harris, who struggled to catch on at safety after his size (6-foot-1, 206 pounds) made him a rather intriguing prospect coming out of Boston College.

The opportunity to break out at a new position is exciting, of course, but he also likes the different brand of competition that playing cornerback brings.

“Being out there on the island, man, there’s nothing else like it. There’s nothing else like it — just the adrenaline that you get,” Harris said. “I’m a competitor, man, so I get amped just being out there. And then a lot of times in the run game, they don’t expect a corner to come down and be physical. I’m like, shoot, I’m with that too. What’s up?”

In addition to playing in high school, cornerback is a position where Harris has been “cross training” for his entire career, he said. And as he continues to grow more comfortable in his new full-time role with the Lions, he’s expecting his old one to help him become more cerebral.

“(Because of) playing safety, I always know where my help is going to be,” Harris said. “I think that’s the most important thing — where my help is going to be, the communication that is going on behind me, different adjustments that will put me in better spots. And if I’m locked in, I know, hey, this is what Tracy (Walker), DeShon (Elliott), (Ifeatu Melifonwu), this is where those guys are going. This is everything that’s happening back there.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Harris’ move to cornerback is that Melifonwu is making an unrelated, yet corresponding, move from cornerback to safety.

Part of all this shuffling around is an attempt at controlling damage if the injury bites in 2022 the way it did a season ago. “(If) he’s a jack of all trades and now he can play multiple spots on top of special teams when he goes in the game, that’s an asset,” Campbell said about Harris, specifically.

But mainly, Campbell added, “(We’re) just trying to find the best fit for our guys and for what we have on the roster.”

“Iffy, we we want to see what he can do at safety, knowing he can swing back to corner. So, Iffy is a little bit more in play in both spots, but we certainly would like to come out of this camp and see if Iffy can play some safety, essentially.”

Twitter: @nolanbianchi

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